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Researchers Explore Coatings Gas Detection Tech


A University of Pittsburgh research team, based at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, recently established how the use of plasmonic nanomaterials and polymer composite coatings could detect energy-relevant gases.

According to the NETL’s news release, the technology could potentially help ensure safer, quicker and more secure underground storage and pipeline monitoring for gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. 

The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

About the Research

The release states that optical fiber sensors can offer advantages over other types of sensors since they are small, lightweight, can endure high temperatures and pressures, and are immune to electromagnetic interference. Additionally, the optical fiber sensors feature long-reach and spatially distributed monitoring.

The latest research demonstrates how pNPs can be incorporated into the porous polymer coating to enhance the monitoring capabilities of optical fiber sensors to build on extensive distributed sensor technology research at NETL.

According to the replease, pNPs, such as gold, silver and platinum particles, are metallic particles or metal oxide particles like tin-doped indium oxide (ITO), which have unique optical properties due to their size and shape. These are reportedly now being utilized in commercial products and technologies.

These particles reportedly have special optical, electrical and thermal properties that make them effective for use in applications such as antimicrobial coatings and molecular diagnostics.

The lab explains that sensing technologies based on pNPs are of interest for various chemical, biological, environmental and medical applications. Plasmonic gas sensors can reportedly exhibit high sensitivity, but until recently have not been demonstrated to the chemically stable gases such as CO2 at room temperature.

In this specific case, NETL researchers Ki-Joong Kim, Jeffrey T. Culp, Jeffrey Wuenschell, Ali K. Sekizkardes, and former NETL researchers Roman A. Shugayev,and  Paul R. Ohodnicki reportedly developed the highly sensitive material that can be used to detect CO2 (or CH4) in ambient environments.

The paper explains how researchers developed a composite film to provide tunable optical features on a fiber optic platform that can be used as a signal transducer for gas sensing under atmospheric conditions.

Researchers say that by varying the pNPs content in a polymer matrix, the optical behavior of the composite film can be tuned to affect the operational wavelength by over several hundred nanometers and the sensitivity of the sensor in the near-infrared range.

Tuning plasmon resonance across the near-infrared range is especially important in distributed or quasi-distributed sensing approaches, which are reportedly more compatible with distributed interrogation systems.

The research also reportedly demonstrated that the pNPs-polymer composite film exhibits good long-term stability, mitigating the physical aging issue of the polymer. The sensor can operate in atmospheric conditions without significant signs of degradation.

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“Developments of sensing technologies are important to a clean energy future, including safe underground storage of CO2 and detection of CH4 leaks,” said Ruishu Wright of NETL’s functional materials team.

“Visibility and monitoring are important for evaluating and managing operational risks of underground CO2 storage. Real-time monitoring is needed to assure storage and pipeline infrastructure integrity and to detect early signs of gas leakage.”

She added that there are several commercial gas sensors for CO2 or CH4 in operation, including catalytic combustion sensors, electrochemical sensors, thermo-conductivity sensors, resistive sensors, acoustic leak sensors and optical-based sensors. However, the challenge is reportedly that existing sensor technologies are mostly point or standoff sensors.

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“There is a real need for wide-area and long-distance monitoring for CO2 and CH4 leak detection in large-scale storage facilities and for CH4 gas detection at well sites and industrial facilities. Early leak detection of the greenhouse gases will help to mitigate gas emissions and combat global warming,” Wright stated.

Recent Pipeline Coating Research

Last month, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign reportedly developed a coating for steam condensers used in fossil fuel steam-cycle generation.

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According to a release from UIUC's Grainger College of Engineering, this innovation to the steam cycle for fossil fuel power generation could help achieve 460 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide released, as well as 2 trillion fewer gallons of water used during the process.  

Researchers stated in the journal Nature Communications that this coating, made with fluorinated diamond-like carbon (F-DLC), could boost the overall process efficiency by 2%. Additionally, they reportedly demonstrated the coating’s suitability for industrial use by performing the longest durability test ever reported. 

The researchers explain that their new F-DLC coating can improve heat transfer since the material is hydrophobic. When the steam condenses into water, it does not form a thin film that coats the surface in the way water does on many clean metals and their oxides.

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Instead, according to the release, the water will form droplets on the F-DLC surface, putting the steam into direct contact with the condenser and allowing heat to be directly transferred. Researchers stated that this improved the heat transfer properties by a factor of 20, translating to a 2% overall process boost.


Tagged categories: Carbon footprint; Colleges and Universities; Emissions; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Government; Health & Safety; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines; Pipes; Quality Control; Research and development


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